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Author Topic: Political Authority
Charles in Charge
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After finishing Michael Huemer's "The Problem of Political Authority" I'm feeling especially anarchist. Can you pop my bubble? What's your theory for government's legitimacy? Why does government get to tell us what to do and why are we obliged to obey?

I'll start off with the null hypothesis: current governments do not actually have political authority. They have no special moral status relative to individuals or other organizations. If it's wrong for you to forcefully take money from your neighbor to give to your favorite charity, then it's also wrong for the government to do that. Most of what current governments do is morally impermissible for an individual or other organization. So most of what current governments do is actually morally impermissible and we are under no moral obligation to obey most of their laws.

So, why is that wrong? Do you believe in an implicit social contract? Does authority come from a democratic majority? Under what conditions does a government lose its authority?

You can read some back and forth on Huemer's basic arguments here if interested.

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LetterRip
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1) Our forefathers set up a government contract - US Constitution in the case of US citizens - establishing a method for setting up agreed upon rules and regulations. Similarly states have set up similar contracts.

2) That contract was legitimized by votes of the states to ratify it, and by subsequent states voting to join the union.

As to 'forced charity' - you have no inherent right to 'anything' other than your own life. Property and money are purely communitarian constructs. Your can only 'earn' within that construct. So there isn't forced charity, there is only agreed upon adherence to rules in exchange for the benefits that a society confers upon you. One of the rules happens to be contributing to taxes, and one of the uses of those taxes are to provide income or other economic support to the elderly and others.

You implicitly accepted those rules by not abandoning your citizenship upon the age of majority. (And until you were the age of the majority, those rules were accepted by your parents or other guardians acting on your behalf).

You can completely reject those rules via rejecting your citizenship and leaving the country - unfortunately land that isn't claimed by other groups is scarce - leaving you either to create your own 'land' on the ocean, or moving to Antarctica.

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LetterRip
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What your reference appears to want to argue is that he should get to reject any part of the contract he doesn't like, and accept only the parts he likes. Contracts don't work like that - he and all other citizens have entered the contract willingly and may reject that contract at any time in toto. They also have the ability to renegotiate that contract, but only via the means set out in the contract - namely through their duely elected representatives.
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LetterRip
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It can be argued that some rules and regulations may be lawfully ignored if it can be shown that they were negotiated due to corruption (bribes, etc.) due to being enacted not as ones representative but instead representing the individuals own interests.
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Charles in Charge
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quote:
Originally posted by LetterRip:
You implicitly accepted those rules by not abandoning your citizenship upon the age of majority. (And until you were the age of the majority, those rules were accepted by your parents or other guardians acting on your behalf).

So you believe contracts can be created unilaterally as long as there is an option to opt-out? even if that option is extremely costly?

Great. Here's my contract for you. You agree to send me 10% of your gross income from now on. I understand if you'd rather not do that. To opt-out simply chop off your thumb and mail it to me. If I don't get a thumb then I'll hold you to our agreement.

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Charles in Charge
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Contracts agreed to under duress aren't valid. Telling someone they have to sign your contract or freeze to death in Antarctica constitutes duress.
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LetterRip
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It wasn't created unilaterally. It was negotiated by representatives of the states, and it was agreed upon by vote of the states.
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LetterRip
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Also losing a benefit you are recieving under your parents previous provisional acceptance of a contract on your behalf isn't 'duress'.

Ie if your parents sign a contract with a music label, that you will be paid 1 million dollars a year till you are 35 if you write 10 songs per year. If at the age of 18 you wish to withdraw from contract, them not paying you 1 million a year if you don't continue the contract is not duress.

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LetterRip
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You don't have to 'freeze to death in Antarctica' - you can accept a contract with any nation willing to have you. It isn't your birth countries fault that your parents chose this country to live in.
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Charles in Charge
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quote:
Originally posted by LetterRip:
It wasn't created unilaterally. It was negotiated by representatives of the states, and it was agreed upon by vote of the states.

Thanks for the correction. I've negotiated the contract details with my wife and she has agreed to the amended, no longer unilateral, contract:

You will send us 10% of your net income forever. As before you can opt-out by sending us a severed thumb or the severed thumb of your spouse should you have one.

Now you agree my contract is also valid.

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Charles in Charge
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quote:
Originally posted by LetterRip:
Also losing a benefit you are recieving under your parents previous provisional acceptance of a contract on your behalf isn't 'duress'.

This raise an interesting question. What are the benefits I receive via this implicit contract? Is the state obliged to provide those benefits? What is the enforcement mechanism should the state fail to live up to its end of the bargain?
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LetterRip
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The state representatives were representing the states. The states were acting on behalf of the people based on their state constitutions. The state constitutions were enacted by representatives and voted on by the population of the state. Those who wished to reject formation of the state could sell their land within the state territory.

You can make some arguement that the original state populations and for a few generations afterwards could have been in unwilling contracts. However enough generations have passed that the constitutions are legitimate contracts - you and previous generations of your family have long had time to reject any such contract.

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Charles in Charge
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quote:
Originally posted by LetterRip:
You don't have to 'freeze to death in Antarctica' - you can accept a contract with any nation willing to have you. It isn't your birth countries fault that your parents chose this country to live in.

If other countries were not an option would you agree the contract was invalid? That would invalidate the social contract of quite a few governments.

And I acknowledge that the ramifications may not be as severe as death. You do have to give up your culture, family and friends though. My point is that the consequences of not accepting the contract are in most cases severe and negative. And so I maintain the contract is entered to under duress.

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LetterRip
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Charles,

quote:
This raise an interesting question. What are the benefits I receive via this implicit contract?
It isn't implicit, it is explicit. The benefits you recieve, amongst others are - public education, public roads, contract enforcement, legal system to settle disputes, enforcement of public laws, civil defense, etc.

quote:
Is the state obliged to provide those benefits?
Yes.

quote:
What is the enforcement mechanism should the state fail to live up to its end of the bargain?
Lawsuits one such mechanism. The mechanisms are part of the original contract.
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Charles in Charge
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quote:
Originally posted by LetterRip:
You can make some arguement that the original state populations and for a few generations afterwards could have been in unwilling contracts. However enough generations have passed that the constitutions are legitimate contracts - you and previous generations of your family have long had time to reject any such contract.

I don't buy that my parents' actions determine whether or not I'm bound by a contract.
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Charles in Charge
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quote:
Originally posted by LetterRip:
Charles,

quote:
This raise an interesting question. What are the benefits I receive via this implicit contract?
It isn't implicit, it is explicit. The benefits you recieve, amongst others are - public education, public roads, contract enforcement, legal system to settle disputes, enforcement of public laws, civil defense, etc.

quote:
Is the state obliged to provide those benefits?
Yes.

quote:
What is the enforcement mechanism should the state fail to live up to its end of the bargain?
Lawsuits one such mechanism. The mechanisms are part of the original contract.

Can you point to any successful lawsuits against the government itself for failing to provide education, roads, enforcement, etc... I'd expect there would be many given the terrible public education many children receive.

There have been several lawsuits against the government when police were obviously negligent in providing safety. But the courts explicitly ruled that "a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services such as police protection, to any particular individual" link.

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LetterRip
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Charles,

quote:
If other countries were not an option would you agree the contract was invalid?
Nope, you can always live on the ocean as a stateless person.

quote:
And I acknowledge that the ramifications may not be as severe as death. You do have to give up your culture, family and friends though.
There are many choices that result in giving up those things. A job can often require a move to keep it.

quote:
My point is that the consequences of not accepting the contract are in most cases severe and negative.
Exiting a contract that provides you many direct and ancillary benefits will obviously result in loss of those direct and ancillary benefits. If you end a lucrative job contract - you will lose the income provided by that job and thus the lifestyle it supports. That doesn't mean that your choosing to stay in the contract because you don't wish to lose the income is staying in the contract 'under duress'.

quote:
And so I maintain the contract is entered to under duress.
You are mistaken - you acquired the benefits due to your parents acceptance of the contract on your behalf. While there isn't a penalty per se for ending the contract (we don't require you to pay back all of the funds spent on your public education for instance, even though that will generally exceed the amount paid in taxes by you and your parents for your education) - your desire to continue the ancillary benefits while rejecting the contract is not duress. If your parents had never accepted the contract on your behalf, you would never have those friends, nor associated with those members of your family that have been living under the contract.
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Charles in Charge
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Alright, I'm off to bed. Thanks for the discussion. So far, I think I could buy the validity through opt-out if there were actually viable options such as existed when the Constitution was first drafted.

One more comment. We could use this same argument to destroy the sovereignty of the Indian Nations, right? Impose a government on them for a couple generations and it gains authority as long as they don't leave.

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Charles in Charge
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quote:
Originally posted by LetterRip:
Charles,

quote:
If other countries were not an option would you agree the contract was invalid?
Nope, you can always live on the ocean as a stateless person.

Lol. I think you overestimate my survival skills. I am no Kevin Costner. And actual attempts of groups that have tried to live on unclaimed territory shows that nearby sovereign states tend to invade pretty quickly. Maybe this will be a viable option in a couple generations when we have the technology and/or wealth to create new islands. I think the world could use some new competition in political organizations.


quote:
And I acknowledge that the ramifications may not be as severe as death. You do have to give up your culture, family and friends though.
There are many choices that result in giving up those things. A job can often require a move to keep it.

quote:
My point is that the consequences of not accepting the contract are in most cases severe and negative.
Exiting a contract that provides you many direct and ancillary benefits will obviously result in loss of those direct and ancillary benefits. If you end a lucrative job contract - you will lose the income provided by that job and thus the lifestyle it supports. That doesn't mean that your choosing to stay in the contract because you don't wish to lose the income is staying in the contract 'under duress'.
[/QUOTE]

The difference of course is that those consequences come from leaving a contract, not from refusing to enter a contract.

quote:
And so I maintain the contract is entered to under duress.
You are mistaken - you acquired the benefits due to your parents acceptance of the contract on your behalf. While there isn't a penalty per se for ending the contract (we don't require you to pay back all of the funds spent on your public education for instance, even though that will generally exceed the amount paid in taxes by you and your parents for your education) - your desire to continue the ancillary benefits while rejecting the contract is not duress. If your parents had never accepted the contract on your behalf, you would never have those friends, nor associated with those members of your family that have been living under the contract.[/QUOTE]

Wow, you're really laying it on. The state gets to take credit for my family and friends? That doesn't pass the laugh test. Is there nothing that exists that the state doesn't get credit for? Is there any state that doesn't get credit for its citizens very existence? Maybe this will make more sense when I'm less tired.

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LetterRip
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Charles,

quote:
Lol. I think you overestimate my survival skills. I am no Kevin Costner. And actual attempts of groups that have tried to live on unclaimed territory shows that nearby sovereign states tend to invade pretty quickly.
Your failure to plan ahead doesn't make it the states 'problem' - you could have acquired the skills and materials necessary to become a stateless ocean dweller and left the country and renounced your citizenship at age 18 (or even younger).

quote:
The difference of course is that those consequences come from leaving a contract, not from refusing to enter a contract.
You are leaving a contract. The contract was entered into on your behalf by your parents upon your birth. You can choose to leave the contract, and suffer the consequences of leaving that contract.


quote:
Wow, you're really laying it on. The state gets to take credit for my family and friends?
Your family relationships and friendships are an ancillary benefit of your US citizenship. Those specific friendships and family relationships would have been impossible to form without you living in the US.

It isn't 'taking credit' for the friendships - I'm just pointing out that your specific relationships are a consequence of your citzenship.

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Pete at Home
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Good show, Charles. LR is one of our more formidable discussants, and you've made an IMO memorable argument that the social contract is procedurally unconscionable. See http://definitions.uslegal.com/p/procedural-unconscionability/

+1

I've already welcomed you to Ornery, and I'm convinced after reading this thread that you're in the right place. [Smile]

With that said:

To toss out a contract under the Common law, you have to show some degree of substantive unconscionability as well as procedural unconscionability. See http://definitions.uslegal.com/s/substantive-unconscionability/ Generally, the more substantive u you have, the less procedural u you have to show.

So the question is, does your country do something significant for you, in exchange for what you do for your country? <<Sound of Kennedy and Mussolini roll over in their graves>>.

I agree with you, Charles, that contact with friends and family is not something that the government can take credit for providing for consideration. See http://www.smallbusiness.wa.gov.au/four-essential-elements-of-a-contract/

quote:
In order for a contract to be binding it must be supported by valuable consideration. That is to say, one party promises to do something in return for a promise from the other party to provide a benefit of value (the consideration)

Consideration is what each party gives to the other as the agreed price for the other's promises. Usually the consideration is the payment of money but it need not be; it can be anything of value including the promise not to do something, or to refrain from exercising some right.

The payment doesn't need to be a fair payment. The courts will not intervene where one party has made a hard bargain unless fraud, duress or unconscionable conduct is involved.

Here, you have shown duress. So if you can show that the contract isn't substantively fair, you can argue that it's void. (In theory, at least, since to some degree these questions of legitimacy are resolved through might-makes right.)
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JoshuaD
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Pete: That seems tautological. You're using the specific rules of a particular legal system to determine whether that legal system is valid.

I believe our government has political authority because it controls power. Power is the source of our government's authority, plain and simple.

Our government's use of force to maintain its political authority is generally righteous because it generally acts in line with the wishes of the majority of its citizens, who generally ask their government to do good things.

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Wayward Son
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You can opt out of the contract at any time. Simply renounce your citizenship. You will not be subject to taxes as a citizen after that.

However, you will be living in an area "owned" by the entity known as the United States of America. They own the public spaces--roads, parks, etc. They even claim partial ownership of private lands. They own the water. They also provide services to those residing within their property: police protection, military protection, a legal system to resolve disputes, etc.

Since they own the property and provide services, they can charge for use of their property and for the services provided. And, being the owners, they can set the terms. If can accept these terms, or you can vacate from their property.

And just because you can't find any place else that is not claimed by someone else is not relevant. That would be like saying that you won't comply with a building owner's rights in a big city because all the other land in the city is all ready owned.

These are the rights we accord any private owner of property. Why shouldn't we accord the same rights to a government that has claim on an area known as a nation? No one is forced to accede to the owner's demands. The person can always leave.

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Charles in Charge
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LetterRip,

I think your theory of political authority needs some more nuance. As I understand it so far it would justify some pretty terrible governments.

Here are your sufficient conditions as I understand them. Please correct or extend them if you like:
1) The state establishes an explicit contract (e.g. a Constitution).
2) Citizens can reject the contract by leaving the state's territory.
When these conditions are met the state has authority and citizens are under moral obligation to live by the contract.

To take one example, this would justify the government of Panem. After the last war it established an explicit contract with its citizens. Katniss' parents accepted this contract on her behalf by not leaving. Katniss also chooses not to leave (she really likes her friends and family which are a benefit of her Panem citizenship). So the state has political authority including the authority to require Katniss to fight other kids to the death. To disobey its laws is immoral and the revolution is unjust.

Have I not captured your sufficient conditions for political authority? Or do you think that Panem is a legitimate government?

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JoshuaD
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Charles: You're using terms that make the question more difficult than it is. What do you mean by legitimate?

Do you mean good? Then your question answers itself.

Do you mean actually in power? Again, your question answers itself.

Or do you mean representative of its citizens wishes? Again, your question answer itself.

"Legitimate" is a confusing and unclear term. Use clear terms and the answer becomes clear. All of the difficulties you're wrestling with revolves around an unclear meaning for "Legitimate".

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KidTokyo
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Social contract theory is not meant to function according to the rules of contract law. It's a conceit devised by elites, intended (to its great credit) to have some degree of internal consistency, and to proceed (also to its credit) from a premise of natural law rather than divine right. But it quickly becomes absurd when analysed under the standards of workaday contract law, for reasons already made clear. And, at the end of the day, its purpose is still to justify the right of elite representatives and institutions to rule.

Like Charles, my anti-authoritarian tendencies have lead me towards anarchy or anarcho-syndicalism, but as a practical matter I am more the "soft" left-libertarian willing to live with capitalism and free markets with the major caveat that corporate entities distort rather than exemplify the free market, and that protecting the environment goes hand-in-glove with protecting rights in general. Leaving me, I suppose, a sort of weak-tea Chomskyite.

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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by JoshuaD:
Pete: That seems tautological. You're using the specific rules of a particular legal system to determine whether that legal system is valid.

You are wrong, Wayward. [Smile] Validity of a Legal system =/= legitimacy of a government.

Furthermore I did not offer common law rule of contract as binding authority for legitimacy. I'm offering them up for challenge as the most reasonable known system for ascertaining whether a contract is legitimate and morally enforceable. I'm entirely open to other suggestions as to how to determine whether a contract is just. Feel free to lay out another legal system for ascertaining conscionability of contracts, and then we can see if they disagree, and which makes more sense.

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Pete at Home
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Your restatement looks good to me:

quote:
Here are your sufficient conditions as I understand them. Please correct or extend them if you like:
1) The state establishes an explicit contract (e.g. a Constitution).

In the common law, contracts formed in such a power imbalance are called "adhesion contracts." The more power that the weaker party has to negotiate the contract (e.g. voting for legislators, etc.) the more procedurally conscionable that it is.

Panem's social contract is an adhesion contract and absolutely substantively unconscionable. Therefore invalid.

The military government in Heinlein's Starship Troopers would be a rare example of a government with a huge problems with procedural unconscionability (using military volunteers for medical experiments) but it squeaks because of its extreme degree of procedural concionability: it's all volunteer and you can quit at any time.


quote:
2) Citizens can reject the contract by leaving the state's territory.

Assuming they can. See Panem. If they can't, then staying can't constitute assent.

quote:
Originally posted by Charles in Charge:
To take one example, this would justify the government of Panem. After the last war it established an explicit contract with its citizens. Katniss' parents accepted this contract on her behalf by not leaving.

I thought LR's argument about not leaving was weak, but here again you've produced a counterexample that supports your opponent's arguments when we look at the facts. Panem prohibits its citizens from leaving their districts, on pain of death, and electrifies the fences. It hunts down people that leave and kills them in the wilderness, or brings them back to the Capitol as Avox slaves. That deprives Katniss and her parents of the choice to leave, therefore they cannot have assented by remaining.

Panem is loosely based on the Roman empire (with a subtle splash of the PRC). In Roman terms, Katniss and her parents would not have been considered citizens, but rather subjects or vassals.

[ December 02, 2013, 01:58 PM: Message edited by: Pete at Home ]

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NobleHunter
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My pontifications:

As social constructs, governments have authority because we say they do. They are a communal delusion establish society wide consensus. We may have better or worse reasons for that consensus but if there is no consensus on authority, there is no government. If there is no agreement among a larger group, smaller groups (like nation-states) may form a consensus that excludes others.

The consensus can be established through common ideals (Canada and the US), common heritage (Euro nation states), common interests (the EU), force (pretty much every government in history), or anything else that encourages people not rise in open revolt. Usually, it's a combination of reasons.

Why should we obey? Because the alternative is worse. Life with government is better than life without government. It's not always better for everyone (see Slavery) but it's better enough that we tend to create proto-governments whenever possible (See Warlords). And we tend to try and replace a "bad" government with "good" one rather than anarchy.

A government loses authority when there is no longer the consensus that they have it. For example, the South rejected the consensus during the Civil War; the North re-established it by force. See also, the Arab Spring.

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JoshuaD
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quote:
Noble:
Why should we obey? Because the alternative is worse. Life with government is better than life without government.

While I agree with the general thrust of your argument, I do want to draw a distinction here.

We don't obey because we have done the calculation that government is better than the alternative (many people have done this calculation and decided it comes out the other way). We obey the government because the government has power. Power to put us in jail, take our stuff, and otherwise ruin our lives.

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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by KidTokyo:
Social contract theory is not meant to function according to the rules of contract law. It's a conceit devised by elites, intended (to its great credit) to have some degree of internal consistency, and to proceed (also to its credit) from a premise of natural law rather than divine right. But it quickly becomes absurd when analysed under the standards of workaday contract law, for reasons already made clear.

Clear where? If you're right (and that remains to be seen) then show me a counterexample.

Charles has posed the interesting question of whether social contracts are fair. I know of no better rules set to analyze that than basic contract law. If you know a simpler or clearer system for analyzing the fairness of any relationship, than the basic contract rules. Again, if you know a better system for discussing it, please lay it out.

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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by JoshuaD:
quote:
Noble:
Why should we obey? Because the alternative is worse. Life with government is better than life without government.

While I agree with the general thrust of your argument, I do want to draw a distinction here.

We don't obey because we have done the calculation that government is better than the alternative (many people have done this calculation and decided it comes out the other way). We obey the government because the government has power. Power to put us in jail, take our stuff, and otherwise ruin our lives.

There are at least as many different reasons for obeying the government as there are different reasons for disobeying it. But I'll agree that power is the primary force which establishes governments.

Nevertheless, an illegitimate government still holds power, and people still obey it, to some extent. In "The Moon is Down" by John Steinbeck, most do not consider the occupying army to be the legitimate power in the village, and this poses certain problems with obedience, notwithstanding the fact that the occupiers have the power and the disposition to kill and take stuff away. I have referred to certain governments as "less of a government than a hostage situation."

[ December 02, 2013, 02:09 PM: Message edited by: Pete at Home ]

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Wayward Son
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quote:
Pete said:
You are wrong, Wayward. [Smile] Validity of a Legal system =/= legitimacy of a government.

You first quote JoshuaD, then reply to me. You talking to me or JoshD? [Confused]

Assuming you are talking to me, let me be a bit more clear. Charles is refering a social contract for obeying the government. I bet that he also believes in individual contracts and that they should be enforcable. So I am equating the social contract with individual contracts, specifying that the government can be treated as an "individual" and has ownership of all land and resources not owned by individuals. The government also has the authority (granted by ownership) of establishing the rules for use of those lands and resources.

If you don't believe in contracts, it is moot to talk about breaking one with the government. If you do believe in contracts, then you assert that the government has ownership of all public lands and has the rights and responsibilities of ownership. One of the rights of ownership is being able to dictate the use of one's possession. Thus, government has the right to make you do things you may not want to do (such as pay money for poor people).

If you don't like it, stop using the government's resources. QED.

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NobleHunter
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JoshuaD, yes.

But what do you mean by 'the alternative'? My paragraph is somewhat unclear, since I refer to anarchy but also replacing governments with another. To clarify: the alternative to a government is usually a different one. I would be surprised if there were a society of any complexity without a consensus on authority (even if the result was the equivalent political of the priesthood of the believer). Which begs the question of how decentralized can authority be before there is no government. Hrum.

Also, I meant to say that the power of the government to impose negative consequences on anyone who rejects the consensus is highly relevant to considering the alternative. People may be better off, but not if they end up dead for trying. Likewise, the benefits of stable and orderly government should be considered as well (See China).

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JoshuaD
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quote:
Pete: Nevertheless, an illegitimate government still holds power, and people still obey it, to some extent. In "The Moon is Down" by John Steinbeck, most do not consider the occupying army to be the legitimate power in the village, and this poses certain problems with obedience, notwithstanding the fact that the occupiers have the power and the disposition to kill and take stuff away. I have referred to certain governments as "less of a government than a hostage situation."
What do you mean by "illegitimate"? I think this term creates confusion rather than clarity.
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JoshuaD
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quote:
Noble: But what do you mean by 'the alternative'?
Not sure, I was replying to your post, so I used your structure and your terms to make my point. I don't see that "the alternative" needs to be defined for that point to make sense, so I was comfortable leaving it undefined.

--

I suppose the alternative is another government of some sort of another. "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains."

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LetterRip
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Charles,

quote:
Here are your sufficient conditions as I understand them. Please correct or extend them if you like:
1) The state establishes an explicit contract (e.g. a Constitution).
2) Citizens can reject the contract by leaving the state's territory.
When these conditions are met the state has authority and citizens are under moral obligation to live by the contract.

No, elected representatives create the constitution. So you have representation, followed by contract, followed by public acceptance of the contract, and then further changes to the contract must be via specified manner. Also there are provisions for contract renegotiation, for rejecting the contract on an indivdual basis, and for completely dissolving the contract for all participants.

quote:
To take one example, this would justify the government of Panem.
No it wouldn't. Panem formed not as elected central authority, but as government established via force of arms.

quote:
After the last war it established an explicit contract with its citizens.
Nope, it was established via force of arms, so had no originating legitimacy. Also citizens have no method of rejecting the contract. Ie they explicitly are forbidden to leave their cities etc. Also there is no mechanism for renegotiation or complete dissolvement.

quote:
Katniss' parents accepted this contract on her behalf by not leaving. Katniss also chooses not to leave (she really likes her friends and family which are a benefit of her Panem citizenship). So the state has political authority including the authority to require Katniss to fight other kids to the death. To disobey its laws is immoral and the revolution is unjust.

Have I not captured your sufficient conditions for political authority? Or do you think that Panem is a legitimate government?

See above, Panems government lacks all of the requirements that are necessary. It might actually be the legitimate government of the capitol. For everywhere else it is a military dictatorship. Obviously it was modeled after the Roman Empire (Panem - bread - as in 'bread and circuses'; and many other quite blatant clues). It isn't clear how the Capitols leadership is determined - he appears to be a Roman dictator, but it is possible that the Capitol has other means for leadership determination.

[ December 02, 2013, 02:55 PM: Message edited by: LetterRip ]

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KidTokyo
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Josh, I agree with you here:

quote:
We don't obey because we have done the calculation that government is better than the alternative (many people have done this calculation and decided it comes out the other way). We obey the government because the government has power. Power to put us in jail, take our stuff, and otherwise ruin our lives.
--
Pete,

quote:
Charles has posed the interesting question of whether social contracts are fair. I know of no better rules set to analyze that than basic contract law. If you know a simpler or clearer system for analyzing the fairness of any relationship, than the basic contract rules. Again, if you know a better system for discussing it, please lay it out.
I think the answer is hidden in plain view -- Constitutional law and, even better and more broadly social theory in general (which is where we get the "social contract").

My problem with using contract law analysis for the fairness of a social contact is that it really only aids the theoretical construct -- it is of limted practical utility. Why evaluate the fairness of a social contract that we have very little choice but to obey, unless we embrace a highly theoretical/esoteric notion of "choice"?

More importantly, there is no genuine reciprocity or arms-length dealing in the social contract. The social contract is not bargained for except in some imaginary or historically antiquated plane of existence.

Finally, what compels us to obey a literal contract is the social contract, which by definition is the coercive power of the threat of legal or physical force. Contracts are nothing more than empty conceptions without this. What compels us to follow the social contract? -- the thing itself, and circumstance, neither of which are chosen voluntarily.

So, really, the question of "fairness" doesn't enter into in any real-world scenario insofar as we choose the contract itself.

That is not to say it's useless -- I can and often use contract law as you suggest to analyze policy choices, because it allows me to use an imaginary baseline for comparison when asking whether a particular tax or regulation is "fair." And that is useful. But Josh is correct, in my view -- broaden the analysis too far and it becomes tautological.

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Charles in Charge
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quote:
Originally posted by LetterRip:
Charles,

quote:
Here are your sufficient conditions as I understand them. Please correct or extend them if you like:
1) The state establishes an explicit contract (e.g. a Constitution).
2) Citizens can reject the contract by leaving the state's territory.
When these conditions are met the state has authority and citizens are under moral obligation to live by the contract.

No, elected representatives create the constitution. So you have representation, followed by contract, followed by public acceptance of the contract, and then further changes to the contract must be via specified manner. Also there are provisions for contract renegotiation, for rejecting the contract on an indivdual basis, and for completely dissolving the contract for all participants.

quote:
To take one example, this would justify the government of Panem.
No it wouldn't. Panem formed not as elected central authority, but as government established via force of arms.

quote:
After the last war it established an explicit contract with its citizens.
Nope, it was established via force of arms, so had no originating legitimacy. Also citizens have no method of rejecting the contract. Ie they explicitly are forbidden to leave their cities etc. Also there is no mechanism for renegotiation or complete dissolvement.

quote:
Katniss' parents accepted this contract on her behalf by not leaving. Katniss also chooses not to leave (she really likes her friends and family which are a benefit of her Panem citizenship). So the state has political authority including the authority to require Katniss to fight other kids to the death. To disobey its laws is immoral and the revolution is unjust.

Have I not captured your sufficient conditions for political authority? Or do you think that Panem is a legitimate government?

See above, Panems government lacks all of the requirements that are necessary. It might actually be the legitimate government of the capitol. For everywhere else it is a military dictatorship. Obviously it was modeled after the Roman Empire (Panem - bread - as in 'bread and circuses'; and many other quite blatant clues). It isn't clear how the Capitols leadership is determined - he appears to be a Roman dictator, but it is possible that the Capitol has other means for leadership determination.

OK, here's version two of the necessary conditions for a legitimate government. Would you call these sufficient? I'm more interested in sufficient rather than necessary conditions.

1) Elected representatives create a constitution.
2) The constitution must have a method of revision.
3) The constitution must be able to be individually rejected.
4) The constitution must have a method of complete dissolution.

I'm surprised by (4). How does the US Constitution meet this requirement? through the power to amend?

Let's see if you we can update Panem to meet your new requirements.

[1] Let's assume that after the last war elected representatives of both the capitol and the districts negotiated the contract. The district representatives were strong federalists elected by a people who blamed the secessionists for the war. They were eager to reunite with the capital and sincere in their belief that they needed a strong central power to avoid further conflict. The resulting Constitution thus explicitly gives the Capitol and the President rights to conduct Hunger Games, demand tribute from the districts, etc.... Many district citizens now think they got a terrible deal.
[2] The constitution contains the clause that it can be revised via unanimous vote of representatives of the districts and the Capitol.
[3] As noted by several commentators Panem hunts down anyone who leaves. So let's change it so that Panem doesn't hunt down deserters, but for environmental reasons the survivability of leaving the cities is the same as if it did hunt them down (meaning someone could in theory acquire the skills but doing so would be difficult).
[4] The constitution contains the clause that a unanimous vote of representatives of the districts and the Capitol will dissolve the Constitution.

Ok, is the new and improved Panem government legitimate? It seems like very little has changed from Katniss' or the average citizen's perspective, but I think it technically meets your necessary requirements. What's missing now? or is the new Panem legitimate? or do you find the changes implausible?

As a side note, I consider a legitimate government one that its citizens have a moral obligation to obey.

Side note two: I'm mostly interested in figuring out if I have a moral obligation to obey the US government. Is it morally wrong to not pay taxes, dodge the draft, kidnap my kid back from CPS? A secondary goal is to figure out how to create legitimate governments and how we might make our government more legitimate. I think moving to an explicit social contract would be a good first step, followed by doing what we can to reduce the cost of switching to viable alternatives.

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D.W.
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Before you can even begin to determine what level or type of government you will "accept" you must first determine what level of society you want. This will dictate how much government you “need”. Do you want a power grid? Telecommunication? We going to use anything relying on satellites? Got plans for an affordable hover car? No? Still need roads then. Across the board electrical cars? Guess we need to process oil still. Can we do that all locally? No? Gona take some serious teamwork to get those other countries to barter with us fairly for those resources. While technology may in some distant future “magic” away some of these problems, we are at a point where civilization as we have come to think of it does not function in a society lacking a fairly large amount of government control.

Subjecting ourselves to the tyranny of strong government is probably the only non selfish thing many of us do that has a serious impact. Then we bitch about the loss of control.

The fact is we are selfish to the point of either self-destruction or at least nomadic hunter gatherers otherwise. The chains are uncomfortable but they are connected to all the stuff we like as well as the few things that tend to annoy.

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